Category Archives: Spanish

Brief Review of “Take Off In Spanish”

I thought I would share my thoughts on some of the language books I have bought over the years, starting today with Take off in Spanish.

While I have always liked the Teach Yourself series for its comprehensive teaching, the sad fact is that these books are expensive – in South Africa at least – and I have never been able to afford one with the audio. Needless to say, the Colloquial series is way beyond my budget. Which is why I was so pleased to discover the Take off in series – the whole pack cost less than a Teach Yourself paperback, if I recall correctly.

The pack consists of a book, 5 audio CDs, plus a little bonus book with lists of vocab divided by topic with example sentences. I believe the audio could also be downloaded.

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I must admit, it has been a while since I bought and used the book. I also don’t think I finished it, and I do intend to go back to it when I get back to Spanish.
But I will say it was a book I was happy with. One of my pain points with Teach Yourself is that it is actually quite a steep learning curve. You really need to have time to sit down and work through even just the dialogue at the beginning of each chapter, never mind the rest of it. A major plus point for this Take off in Spanish book is that it’s broken into bite-sized chunks. Every two-page spread is a self-contained section. So if you work full day and can only manage a short study session at the end of each day, it works well for that.

It includes little dialogues with audio, short grammar points with examples, reading comprehension, and listening comprehension. So I think it’s a decent all-rounder.

I have included a few pictures of sample pages from the books, because I hate to buy language learning books without seeing sample pages. It helps me get a sense of whether or not I would enjoy learning from the book. I hope this helps if you are looking for a book to learn a language. I would recommend it.


Many (Language) Loves

Today I want to do in blog form what many people have done on video: introduce the languages I am learning or have spent time learning, as far as possible in those languages.

Since I really don’t focus on output at all, this blog post is intended to be a start in that direction. I think the fact that I am writing this to be read by others is more motivating to me than the idea of keeping a journal. I have never been much of a journal writer – even in English. However, because I am not in the habit of writing in foreign languages, I have struggled with writing the below, and I am certain that it is full of errors. But it’s a first step of hopefully more to come.


Afrikaans is my ‘eerste’ tweede taal. As Suid Afrikaner, het ek ‘natuurlik’ Afrikaans as tweede taal op skool geleer. Ek dink dit was miskien vanaf die derde graad, toe ek so tien jaar oud was. Maar ek gebruik die taal eintlik nie gereeld nie.


Ich habe Deutsch zwei Jahre auf Universität studiert, und danach das Zertifikat Deutsch besteht. Seid dann, habe ich noch manchmal Nachrichten gelesen usw. Deshalb ist meine Verständnis, ich glaube, nicht zu viel vermindert in die vergangenen Jahren.


J’ai aussi Français en université appris, mais seulement un an. Je trouve Français un peu difficile – de comprendre ce que j’écoute, et aussi le grammaire. Mais, j’ai besoin d’étude!


Ho imparato un po’ italiano in una classe di Scuola Italiana. ‘E stato molto lentamente. Ma io sono continuato con il mio studio da solo. Come ho detto, io leggo un libro in italiano al momento.


No habla mucho español, mas lo es similar al italiano, y ese ajuda con comprensión.


Eu ‘falo’ pouco português, mais entende mas que eu posso falar (quando eu leio). I have pretty much only used Duolingo for Portuguese, which was a really helpful start, but it needs a lot of work.


私夫は大学に1年日本語ならった。 私もひとりでべんきょうしました。アニミからたくさんことばおもいました。 かんじはたいへんむずかしいとおもうけど,がんばります!今はMEMRISEでべんきょうします。

Tiếng Việt

Tôi đang học tiếng Việt. Nó là kho làm. 

Other languages

Other languages I have dabbled in / studied and mostly forgotten, but I fully intend to continue learning in the future, include:

Русский язык: Здравствуйте. Я говорю по русски (So I can lie. In Russian! I think…?)

Ελληνικά: really can’t remember a thing in Greek, sadly, but it’s sitting there on my Duolingo list, waiting to be reactivated. I used the FSI course to learn a little of it a few years ago.

Xhosa. Molo. Igama lam nguKate. Ndisazama ukufunda isiXhosa. I actually had a year or two of Xhosa study in primary school. It’s actually frightening how little one can learn of a languages in a classroom situation in one or two years. Nowadays, I have a Teach Yourself book that I dip into from time to time.

Korean. I was delving into this and Mandarin Chinese a year or two ago. I am not quite ‘fluent’ with the writing system, and I only really remember a few words. My favorite word is from Korean dramas: “jinjja!”. 

Mandarin Chinese. Same story as Korean, only the writing is WAY more of a barrier, especially for someone like me, who focuses more on reading.

Well, it’s been fun. Until next time!

Spanish in a Week: Done

Okay, so it took a little more than a week – 8 or 9 days.  During the time I spent on this book, I did not write down any answers to questions, or anything. I made only a short note on verb conjugations. Apart from that, my use of the book consisted of reading (mostly aloud), and attempts to memorise vocab lists. This did not go terribly well. I think I work better when I sit down at a table and go through a lesson systematically. Which is what I will be doing next (more on that further below).

That being said, I still think that any exposure is better than no exposure, and on that principle I think I learned a bit from the Spanish in a Week book. I probably recognise the most common verbs, many nouns, and have a beginner grasp on sentence structure. To gain maximum benefit from this book, one should spend more time on it than I did, perhaps breaking each ‘day’ up into sections to be tackled at different times of the day. Also, I’m sure it would help if you have a partner to practise with.

Another thing – pronunciation. When you learn from a book it’s sometimes hard to know if you a saying things correctly.  I will be using audio files from FSI from time to time to get an feel for pronunciation.

And now: where to next? I have borrowed another book from the library called Practice in Spanish Grammar. I have done  a bit of it today already. Small sections at a time. This will be my project for the next month or so  – Spanish Grammar, and I will also continue with Italian, using my course books from the Italian class I was attending and Teach Yourself Italian Extra. I do love the Teach Yourself series. I read through Teach Yourself Linguistics a while ago and found it very interesting and helpful.

Just a point on libraries – your best source of free materials on language learning! I like to download free resources, because I can keep them, but there’s nothing like holding a book in your hands. You can take it anywhere and you don’t have to wait for it to switch on before you can use it! If given a choice, I always prefer to use a book.

A brief rant on Taglines.

I’ve really begun to get annoyed by some of the taglines on movie posters. Especially those that follow the formula ‘Every blank has a blank’.  This is a very sweeping, and all-encompassing statement. The poster that inspired this particular rant is for “Brothers”, though it is far from being the first in the line of ridiculous, non-sensical taglines. The offending line is “There are two sides to every family”, a barely veiled ‘every blank has a blank’.

I mean really? There are two sides to every family? Are there? Yes, family dynamics can often be quite complex. But I’m fairly certain that there are not two sides to every family. Perhaps this is just a way of making it seem like every person must be able to relate to this film, by convincing us that every family is the same. Well, the story looks good and I might watch it, but not because I think it is in anyway like my life.

I think this kind of thing began to bug me when one of those big fantasy stories (Star Wars New Trilogy I think) bore a tagline to the effect of “Every saga has a beginning”. Oh really? Well that’s news to me. What an epiphany. Yes, it is a prequel to an older story. And I think every Star Wars fan already knew that. If you don’t need the tagline, perhaps it would be better to leave it out altogether. Or at least come up with something a little more interesting.

You may be wondering how this relates to languages. Well, taglines are made up of words. And language is made up of words. Heh. Anyway, I did say my other interests may intrude upon this blog.

As to the Spanish in a Week, I gave myself another break yesterday. I am now on the final day of the week. I began to look through it earlier today, before going to the movies, and will continue later today. After that, I will need to revise the entire book, making notes on the grammar, and trying to memorise some word lists. Then, I have another book on Spanish Grammar that I intend to start. And once I start that I will continue with Italian again simultaneously.

I hear there is a challenge on the UniLang forum. I think I will have to go check it out.

Idioms and Italian Culture

Day 5 – Viernes, Friday – of Spanish in a Week provided an interesting colloquial phrase. Tengo una hambre que me muero means literally I have a hunger that is killing me. I’m dying of hunger. It could be just me that is amused by the slightly different way of phrasing this. I have to admit I find it interesting the way things are said in different languages.

I remember a little while ago I found a website with some Italian idioms and such. One that really stuck in my mind (well the English stuck apparently, and not the Italian) was a phrase meaning a person is crazy. The Italian phrase describes the person as outside like a balcony. Which I thought very descriptive and imaginative. One can imaging a person’s sanity hanging by a tenuous thread ‘on the outside’.

I have an interesting website bookmarked – Italy Revisited. I’m not sure if this is where I found that phrase. I don’t think so. But there are many interesting things on this website – Italian recipes, Italian proverbs, old photos. Basically a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Italian culture.

Language Resource: UniLang

The UniLang website has so much for you to look through. There are a few basic tutorials for starting to learn a language, but for the most part don’t expect to find a whole solution here. What it does have is myriad resources for helping you to learn. From various phrasebooks, to links to stories you can read.

One interesting link I just checked out today is a website that has a paragraph from The Little Prince read out in multiple languages, so you can hear what many different languages sound like.

I have found many cool resources on UniLang. One of my favourites is a phrasebook called Just Read Phrases. This is not for absolute beginners, as it helps to have a basic idea of how the grammar works before trying this. But this phrasebook consists of 200 phrases, which have been constructed especially to give you a taste of as many different words, and sentence constructions as possible. The phrases are not the usual kind of phrase book thing, an example sentence is “the storm reaches the beach”, which gives you two nouns, a verb, and the basic statement construction. Other sentences will feature different constructions. Very cool, and you learn a little more than “I would like a coffee please”, or “my name is…”.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to get through the Spanish in a Week book and am now on day 4 – Thursday, or jueves. I think this is doable. Just requires a little extra time spent on learning word lists – the worst part!!! What am I doing blogging? I should be learning this stuff!

The Challenge: Spanish in a Week

And why not? A week-long project seems just about all I can promise myself. I love languages (as I have said on many occasions), so learning them is something I do for the long haul. I will continue to practise, and read, etc, for as long as I remain interested, and I think this will be a life long interest, but that remains to be seen. For now, anything more than a week-long commitment may be more than I can follow through on.

So, as to the reasons for my project:

  1. My local library opened again after the holidays and my husband and I were there yesterday like flies around the sweet honey of BOOKS!!
  2. Spanish is one of the next on my list to learn, and this will give me a quick basic grounding in a language I want to learn.
  3. I wish to test the “in a week” concept.
  4. I wish to challenge myself.

At this point, I wish to comment on point 4: I know at this stage I am not going to follow through on some year-long project of “Julie and Julia” proportion. As it is, I am already making excuses to myself for if I don’t complete this book within the week, like what if something comes up and what if I miraculously get a job in the next week… So, I’m blogging about it now, because I know I am capable of focusing on something for a mere week, if I simply dedicate myself.

Now about the book itself. It is a short book, divided into seven clearly marked sections for the seven days of the week. It is geared toward people intending to visit Spain, so it includes the kind of everyday situations you would expect to find in a phrase book. Each section consists of a dialogue, translation of the dialogue broken up into categories, explanation of the grammar, and ‘things to do’ – suggested self practice. Also, very useful, there is a ‘vocabulary’ at the back; alphabetical and another one that is broken into lists of words divided into categories. The only concern is that the book is about 20 years old (there may be more recent versions, I don’t know), so I hope it’s not too out-of-date.

How will I test my knowledge? Well, the book does not really provide for self-testing, so I think I will just have to look through the book again and figure out if there is anything I do not understand.  Also, if I battle with the later chapters, it will probably mean that I have not thoroughly learned and understood the earlier ones.

I have taken brief forays into learning Spanish before, but never anything near this much. So if I manage this, it should give me a good grounding in Spanish to expand on.

One last thing that I think needs to be said. I think Spanish is going to be a lot more manageable ‘in a week’ than a language that is not similar to languages I have already learned, and one that uses a different alphabet, etc. Spanish words will be easier to memorize than say Russian or Japanese, because they sound similar to words I already know.

That being said, I will begin today. Wish me luck.